Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Rohingya

The Rohingya and Other Outsiders

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This was first published at the New Arab.

rohingyaI recently had my DNA analysed to illuminate my geographical ancestry. My mother is English and my father Syrian, so you’d expect at least two locations to show. As it happens, I contain Western European, Caucasian, Southern European, Middle Eastern, Irish and Iberian, with small amounts of Scandinavian, North African and South Asian. This demonstrates not only that I am a mixture, but that my parents are too, that everyone is. It reminds us that ethnic distinctions are accidents of cultural history rather than markers of race or even of family purity. It means very similarly mixed blood flows in the veins of those who consider themselves in nationalist terms, for instance, as distinct Arabs, Kurds or Turks.

Ethnicities are fluid, yet European empires and post-colonial states sought to name and thus delimit them from historical flux. When the British arrived in the state called Burma or Myanmar after the Bamar, the dominant group, they set about categorising cultures and races, considering the two categories to be almost interchangeable. In the 1931 census the British named 139 ethnic groups. By 1982, independent Burma’s military junta had reduced this to 135 ‘national races’ qualifying for citizenship.

The Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state are not included, though they are the descendants of Indian and Persian traders who first arrived here over a thousand years ago. Their numbers increased when early Burmese kings raided Bengal for slaves, and during British rule when workers came from India. Today the Burmese state denies their existence as a community, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In recent weeks at least 620,000 Rohingya have been driven from their homes. Villages have been torched, women gang-raped, untold numbers have been hacked or burnt to death. A United Nations official called it a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 20, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Myanmar/ Burma

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